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Mexico's Sinaloa cartel bans fentanyl, reportedly under pain of death


Mexico's Sinaloa cartel, the top exporter of fentanyl to the U.S., has banned the production and trafficking of the illegal opioid, killing several suppliers who refused to stop, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing cartel members.


The shift, handed down in June from the "Chapitos" — four of jailed Sinaloa kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán's sons — and underscored by three bodies found covered with blue pills, is reportedly in response to increasing heat from U.S. law enforcement. Fentanyl overdose deaths have risen sharply in the U.S., adding political pressure to regular drug interdiction efforts.


More than a dozen banners appeared in trafficking hubs this month announcing the ban, signed by the Chapitos and their allies, the Journal reported. A midlevel Sinaloa cartel operative told the Journal he's now "destroying" the 25 fentanyl labs he oversaw. "Some stopped producing. Others kept producing, and we are killing them," he said.


About a dozen people involved in the recalcitrant Sinaloa fentanyl underworld have gone missing in the past 10 days, a local human rights advocate told the Journal.


Mexican security consultant Edwardo Guerrero said the Chapitos are worried about getting arrested and extradited to the U.S., like El Chapo and his son Ovidio. Ovidio Guzmán was arrested for a second time in January and extradited to the U.S. in September.


The Sinaloa operative said the cartel leaders want U.S. law enforcement to focus anti-fentanyl crackdown efforts on the rival Jalisco New Generation Cartel. Mexican and U.S. officials were skeptical the ban was more than short-term PR.


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The opioid crisis has gotten much, much worse despite Congress’ efforts to stop it


America’s drug overdose crisis is out of control. Washington, despite a bipartisan desire to combat it, is finding its addiction-fighting programs are failing.


In 2018, Republicans, Democrats and then-President Donald Trump united around legislation that threw $20 billion into treatment, prevention and recovery. But five years later, the SUPPORT Act has lapsed and the number of Americans dying from overdoses has grown more than 60 percent, driven by illicit fentanyl. The battle has turned into a slog.


Even though 105,000 Americans died last year, Congress is showing little urgency about reupping the law since it expired on Sept. 30. That’s not because of partisan division, but a realization that there are no quick fixes a new law could bring to bear.


“We are in the middle of a crisis of proportions we couldn’t have imagined even five years ago when the original SUPPORT Act was passed,” said Libby Jones, program director of the Overdose Prevention Initiative at the Global Health Advocacy Incubator. “If they can’t pass this, it’s really sad.”


Congress is not coming to the rescue. The House is without a speaker after Republicans fired Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) earlier this month and the GOP has made no progress in replacing him. That’s brought legislation to a standstill.


Asked why the Senate committee with responsibility for the law hasn’t even begun to consider it, Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said other priorities had precedence. “We’re working on a myriad of problems,” he said after listing his efforts to shore up the primary care system and lower drug prices.


Sanders’ attitude reflects the course of the fight against fentanyl, the synthetic opioid that accounts for most of the deaths. Fentanyl’s addictiveness, its affordability, and broader trends driving people to use drugs are overwhelming efforts to convince them not to — and to treat them when they do.


Congress can continue to fund opioid-fighting efforts without passing a new version of the SUPPORT Act. But failing to pass another law forfeits the opportunity to try new approaches. That has advocates discouraged.


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